April 5, 2014

THE SKED Series Finale Review: “Raising Hope”


Hail and farewell to RAISING HOPE, that gently surreal bundle of quirky comedy that may have been too downscale to ever quite hit the pop culture jackpot.  The writing was discernible on the wall when series creator Greg Garcia left before the start of Season 4 to create The Millers and then FOX switched the series from mainstream Tuesday to the wasteland of Friday night.  The ratings there started out bad and got awful, so the decision to end the series once it had reached its syndication target of 4 full seasons wasn’t a major surprise.  Hope was rarely jaw-droppingly inspired in the way that’s made Community fans into cultists, and this season, whether or not due to the absence of Garcia, saw some of its forward motion–largely expressed previously through the halting romance of Jimmy Chance (Lucas Neff) and Sabrina (Shannon Woodward)–stalled now that the couple was happily married, but it retained a genuinely distinctive voice, and that’s a rarity on network TV.

Tonight’s “finale” wasn’t intended as such, because the decision to cancel was made after production on the season was locked, and the night’s two episodes weren’t the season’s best (there was a marvelous Rear Window parody earlier in the fall, and a gleeful spin on The Grinch That Stole Christmas), but they provided a good picture of Raising Hope all the same.

The first of the two episodes, written by Consulting Producer Timothy Stack and Executive Story Editor Matthew W. Thompson, and directed by Rick Kelly, had Jimmy’s father Burt (Garret Dillahunt) deciding that since his wife Virginia (Matthew Plimpton) had gotten a raise–for the first time, they were making “commas”–it was time for him to retire and pursue his passion.  (It was a measure of the Burt/Virginia marriage, perhaps the single happiest on television short of Leslie Knope and her Ben on Parks & Recreation, that although neighbors warned Virginia that Burt might be jealous of her success and feel inadequate, nothing could have been further from the truth.)  After some time figuring out that woodcarving and bird calls weren’t his passion, he decided that he wanted to be a bounty hunter, which cued a (somewhat dated) parody of Dog the Bounty Hunter, the hero of Natesville’s version being called Mullet for obvious reasons.  In the end, Burt realized that his passion was his actual job of being a landscaper; similarly, in the B story, after wallowing in being waited on hand and foot by the maid Sabrina’s grandmother had left them in her will, Jimmy and Sabrina realized they were setting a bad example for Hope and let the maid go.  On Raising Hope, it was nearly always the case that there was no place like home.

The last episode of the series would have been the season finale in any case, so it had a bit more weight, and was written and directed by Mike Mariano, who had replaced Garcia as Hope‘s showrunner.  It marked the return of Jeffrey Tambor as Virginia’s gay narcissist father, who had deserted the family when she was young and secretly stalked her for decades afterwards.  This time, he announced that he would finance Hope’s college education if Virginia organized his wedding, the twist being that it was really a pretext for him to get back into her life by giving her her own dream wedding–and that he didn’t have any money to pay for Hope’s college.  With an assortment of Natesville’s best Kenny Loggins imitators (and then Loggins himself) on hand and a replica of Princess Diana’s wedding gown for Virginia, complete with 25-foot train, all ended well, with her broke dad moving in with the Chances to work on his parenting.

Raising Hope was sprightly and surprisingly smart, and it had a marvelous ensemble cast that extended beyond the four leads to Virginia’s on-and-off demented Maw-Maw (Cloris Leachman), Jimmy and Sabrina’s fellow supermarket colleagues Barney (Gregg Binkley) and Frank (Giebenhain), and a multitude of guest stars.  It’s also worth noting that for all its air of good-natured nonsense, it was more concerned with life in the American lower-class and the perpetual struggle for income than just about anything on television, comedy or drama (the only comparable show that comes to mind is Shameless), a factor that gave an undercurrent to its humor and may have made it less escapist (and thus less popular) than it might otherwise have been.

Raising Hope probably won’t be remembered as classic television, but apart from being consistently imaginative and often laugh-out-loud funny, it had a genuine integrity.  That quality is unlikely to be replaced anytime soon.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."